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Asa Brebner, Boston music scene mainstay, dies at 65

Asa Brebner.FILE PHOTO

Asa Brebner, a lion of the Boston music scene who found particular fame in the ’80s as the guitarist for Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, has died. He was 65.

Brebner was a force across multiple eras and genres of the city’s musical culture, from punk to pop to roots music, lending his considerable talents and idiosyncratic perspective to such bands as the Modern Lovers, Mickey Clean & the Mezz, the Grey Boys, Asa Brebner’s Idle Hands, the Family Jewels, and the Naked I’s.

As a solo artist, he released six solo CDs. A prolific creator well beyond music, he was also noted as a visual artist and author.


Just last weekend, Brebner reunited with the Chartbusters to play two sold-out shows at the Burren; the concerts celebrated “Many Years Ago,” a career-spanning retrospective that collects the band’s albums, session releases, singles, and live performances across three discs.

Of his early career with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Brebner once told the Globe: “I was 20 years old when Jonathan Richman walked into the health food store I was working at, and before I knew it, I was playing bass for him.”

No cause of death has been announced, but word of the Cambridge resident’s passing began spreading on social media Sunday. Many tributes made mention of a Facebook prose poem Brebner posted shortly after the Burren shows.

“Whenever you ran into him he’d have some witty, cynical observation that would put everything right into focus,” wrote Brett Milano, veteran music critic and author of the 2007 book “The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock and Roll,” on Facebook. “He kept playing music and making art because that’s what he was born to do.”

In a short post, Chartbusters drummer Tim Jackson saluted his bandmate. “Oh, the times we had,” wrote Jackson. “My brother and best friend.”


The Boston Music Awards honored Brebner with its “unsung hero” award in 2005, celebrating his decades of work shaping and shepherding countless bands in and around the local scene.

“Some people wonder why I’m still doing it, but it’s because of the need for expression,’’ Brebner told the Globe in 2012 of his lengthy career. “It keeps you young. When you’ve done a great show and laid it all on the line, it’s very healing.’’

A complete obituary will follow.

Isaac Feldberg can be reached by email at, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.